Snacks that make you shrink (or grow gigantic), mad tea parties, murderous croquet: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a bonkers enough story on its own that it’s impressive to see the ways in which so many authors have been able to retell it.
In these thrillers and pastiches and history lessons, Alice Liddell is a princess on the run, a mad inmate, or only a tangential part of the story; some retellings focus on other citizens of Wonderland, from the maligned White Rabbit to the misunderstood Queen of Hearts. No matter which of the many ways into Wonderland these writers choose, the stories are as enticing as a bottle that says DRINK ME.
Heartless by Marissa Meyer
Marissa Meyer invents a back story for Wonderland’s primary antagonist: Catherine, who would rather create otherworldly confections in her dream bakery than accept the King of Hearts’ proposal. While Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series used the familiar fairy-tale scaffolding of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, and others’ stories to climb straight into space, this standalone novel is different—it’s not about space, but time. Readers know that Cath has no choice but to eventually become the brutal, nonsensical Queen of Hearts; but, as Mahvesh Murad wrote in her review, “It isn’t hard to imagine how she will end up, when she must give up the life she had imagined as a valid alternate—full of a cold, heartless hatred that clouds all judgment.”
Mad Hatters and March Hares, edited by Ellen Datlow
Dave McKean’s cover about sums up the tone of Ellen Datlow’s anthology: whimsical, nostalgic, yet undeniably creepy. Some of the collection’s contributors return to Wonderland, like Angela Slatter’s examination in “Run, Rabbit” of the White Rabbit’s fate for bringing Alice there in the first place, or Matthew Kressel’s surreal tour of Wonderland as theme park in “In Memory of a Summer’s Day.” Others hook into the story’s legacy and archetypes to go super-meta, from the Cheshire Cat falling down a hole and turning into a little girl (Seanan McGuire’s “Sentence Like a Saturday”) to Alice Liddell and Peter Pan having a heart-to-heart (“The Flame After the Candle” by Catherynne M. Valente). Some of the characters bear no resemblance or connection to Alice and her bizarre friends, but their stories—Ysabeau Wilce’s tamale girl in her own portal fantasy (“The Queen of Hats”), Katherine Vaz’s cafe owner mourning her murdered daughter (“Moon, Memory, Muchness”)—make readers want to follow them down the rabbit-hole.
After Alice by Gregory Maguire
The moment that Alice tumbles down the rabbit-hole, she leaves the real, logical world behind. But that world doesn’t stop spinning—so how did 1860s Oxford react to her disappearance? Indifference, mostly. In Gregory Maguire’s imagining, Alice’s fifteen-year-old sister Lydia is too busy serving as the lady of the house after their mother’s death to notice her curious younger sister has slipped away. Alice’s playmate Ada does find the rabbit-hole, but she’s late enough that she must navigate Wonderland on her own, acting as the Orpheus to Alice’s Eurydice in her attempts to drag her friend back to the light.
The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
In a clever reversal, heir to the Wonderland throne Alyss Heart and her bodyguard Hatter Madigan go through the looking glass… to the other side. But upon their arrival in Victorian London, the two are separated, with Alyss left only with an aspiring author to hear her grievances. But where she hopes that he’ll publicize her story—of her parents’ murders at the hand of her aunt Redd, of tea parties replaced by bloody battles—he instead gets every detail horribly wrong. Can Hatter find Alyss in the real world? Can she harness her powers of Imagination when not in Wonderland?
Alice by Christina Henry
Placing Alice in a mental institution has been done before, not least because it seems like the most appropriate reaction to one’s daughter emerging from a rabbit-hole declaring she has seen all manner of impossible things. But what if young Alice emerges with (gulp) a flayed face and unable to say anything but “the rabbit” over and over and over again? And what if her fellow patients at the institution include a Mad Hatcher she speaks to through walls, and the mysterious creature known only as the Jabberwock? Christina Henry’s violent revenge tale is not for the faint of heart, but if you make it through, you’ll be rewarded with the sequel, Red Queen.
Automated Alice by Jeff Noon
“I suppose that Carroll’s rabbit hole and looking glass can be seen as a Victorian version of Gibson’s ‘jacking-in’ to Cyberspace,” Jeff Noon told Spike magazine in 1996, summing up his thought process behind Automated Alice. Both a “trequel” to Carroll’s two adventures as well as the third installment of his own series that began with Vurt, the book sees Alice step through a grandfather clock into alternate-universe 1998 Manchester. There, she encounters a strange robotic doppelgänger powered by termites (the eponymous Automated Alice) and gets framed for a series of murders when the jigsaw pieces found on the bodies match one of her puzzles. Noon seeks to pay homage to Carroll not just with the characters, but with the writing style and accompanying illustrations by Harry Trumbore.
Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot
The greatest shipbuilding port in the world during Lewis Carroll’s time and a supposed inspiration for his Alice books (it literally rhymes with “Wonderland”), Sunderland possesses a rich history. In his 300-page, nonlinear graphic novel, writer-illustrator Bryan Talbot delves into Carroll’s famous visits and the legacy of the area itself in relation to art and imagination. To do so, Talbot must draw himself into the narrative; true to the book’s subtitle—An Entertainment—he takes on the roles of both Traveler and Storyteller for what Teen Reads describes as “theatrical performance with academic lecture.” Fitting with Alice’s journey, it’s the kind of topsy-turvy tour that readers should just give themselves over to, and all the nonsense will give way to sense.
What are your favorite Alice in Wonderland retellings?
Originally published December 2017.